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Guest Post: Leveraging the Cloud for Scientific Research by Dr. Robert Banks

Today, we’re thrilled to announce the launch of PZFlexCloud™ on CliQr’s CloudCenter™ platform—a web-based offering of our popular PZFlex® finite element analysis software. PZFlexCloud is aimed at blue-sky inventors, design engineers, and scientists interested in reducing capital expense while mitigating the risks inherent in the development of any new technology or product. PZFlexCloud uses a pay-as-you-go business model to remove substantial barrier-to entry costs.

Here’s a little background on us: PZFlex® is a division of New York-based engineering firm Weidlinger Associates, Inc. In the early 1980s, Weidlinger developed the FLEX™ code to support Nuclear Test Ban Treaty monitoring. The name, FLEX, derives from its primary focus—performing Fast Large Explicit time-domain dynamic simulations—and from its versatility and unprecedented speed in modeling unusually large structures. At the beginning of the 1990s, the FLEX “tree” grew three branches: NLFlex™, EMFlex™ and PZFlex®.

With support from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, our team set up shop in Mountain View, California, where we began to develop PZFlex software to support the analysis of electromechanical coupling in piezoelectric devices. Ultrasound devices for medical diagnostics were the original focus of PZFlex, but it now supports a wide range of applications, from acoustic monitoring to microelectromechanical system (MEMS) design.

Over the years, PZFlex has played an integral role in the development and improvement of noninvasive medical procedures, such as body sculpting. It has also provided ultrasound modeling for research toward promising cancer treatments. PZFlex has been used for the creation of an optical scanner for fingerprint detection. The scanner’s initial function was related to Homeland Security, but it is now being adapted for the consumer market and is used to secure mobile devices.

A significant decision of the PZFlex team was to form a strategic alliance with CliQr™ Technologies, ensuring a secure and flexible “cloud-agnostic” experience and, in the process, becoming the first FEA product supported by CliQr’sCloudCenter.

The CliQr platform allows users to move fluidly among various clouds and cloud configurations to obtain the best balance of state-of-the-art hardware, speed, and cost for any given project.

Because the cloud supports multiple computers running in parallel, problem-solving time can be drastically reduced with a sweep of tests that run one variable many times over or many variables simultaneously. In a 2012 case study using this method, the time to prototype a fingerprint sensor that uses ultrasound to detect friction-ridge patterns was reduced from 30 workdays to just 14 hours.

Engineering teams across multiple disciplines and continents have invested in PZFlex because it has been shown to decrease the number of physical models a designer must produce by as much as 90 percent per development cycle and is valuable in pinpointing the problems that compromise a product’s manufacture and deployment.

PZFlexCloud users are able to initiate the service or supplement a current site-locked license with the purchase of a monthly subscription and/or bundles of compute time. The PZFlex they access will be just as powerful as PZFlex in its licensed form and will deliver the same accuracy and quality performance. Documentation and training manuals for new users will be made available for offline viewing free of charge. A “thinner” tutorial version of the software, which will support creation and installation of a model but not its testing or improvement, is under development.

PZFlex has been a success story not only for Weidlinger but also for its original sponsor, SBIR, which gave Weidlinger a Tibbetts Award in recognition of PZFlex’s originality and highly effective commercialization. Unique among its rivals for being developed by acoustics engineers with advanced degrees, who use the software in their own research, the software has contributed to many hallmarks of technological progress. These real-world objects and processes include prenatal ultrasonic probes, sonar mine detectors, cancer-drug delivery methods, and microchip flaw-detection systems. Recently, PZFlex was used to design fuel injectors that increase the efficiency of any vehicle with a diesel engine, resulting in the filing of six U.S. patents, three of which have been awarded.

Dr. Robert Banks, PZFlex Director for Weidlinger Associates, is based in the firm’s Mountain View, Calif. office, specializing in ultrasonic and piezoelectric research and design, and is a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). www.pzflex.com

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